THE COMMEMORATION OF THE FAITHFUL DEPARTED - 2018

SCRIPTURES: Ps. 116; 1 John 3:1-3; Rev. 21 & 22; John 5:24-29 

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints,” says Ps. 116. How contrary this is to the way those without faith in God think of death! This was made very clear to me by a song I heard on the radio yesterday. It’s a song from a group I like: Blood, Sweat and Tears. They sang:

I'm not scared of dying and I don't really care

If it's peace you find in dying, well, then let the time be near.

If it's peace you find in dying, when dying time is here,

Just bundle up my coffin cause it's cold way down there.

My troubles are many, they're as deep as a well

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell.

Swear there ain't no heaven and pray there ain't no hell,

But I'll never know by living, only my dying will tell,

And when I die and when I'm gone,

There'll be one child born and a world to carry on, to carry on.

So: when you die, that’s it. You’re gone, as if you never existed; the world goes on, and someone else is born and takes your place. These lyrics were set to a great tune and the song became a hit for Blood, Sweat and Tears. But, still: it’s a sad and depressing song.

How different death is for God’s people! Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” Wonderful days are ahead for us! Jesus says, “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear my voice and come out.” (John 5) The apostle John says (1 John 3), “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” And, in the book of Revelation we hear: ““Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God… No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” Such joy and blessing await us! Oh, to see it, to enjoy it, to have what these words promise!!

If you desire this, pay close attention to all that God says. He directs our attention to the joyous life awaiting Christ’s people in heaven, that we might have hope here and be comforted. But, as He directs our attention to that life, He also gives us a clearer sight of our lives right now.

Our Lord Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Notice, Jesus doesn’t say, “hears my words,” but, “hears my word.” Word (singular), not words (plural). Christ’s Word is one. He speaks one thing, one word, not many. Every teaching of Jesus, indeed, every word and teaching of the Bible, is one, is about one thing and one thing alone: the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation in Jesus Christ. Every word of the Bible is the Word of Jesus: the Son of God and Son of Man, the eternal Word made flesh. And, every Word of Jesus brings eternal life right now. “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Has: present tense. Is theirs right now. Christ’s one Word brings us life – His life – and so life eternal right now.

This is why you must hear the words of God, learn the words of God, cling to the words of God, and follow the words of God. None must be left out, for they are all one word, the Word of Jesus, the Word which is Jesus. With God’s Word you have Jesus, and so you possess now, like a seed in the ground, the life and salvation that is to come. Without it you have no Jesus, and so have neither present strength and comfort nor a glorious future. You have nothing but sin, death, judgment and hell.

What does that mean for us on this day, when we remember four elderly women of our congregation who died this past year? What does God say about aging and dying and death?

There have already been others born, yes; and the world is carrying on. In fact, our world often moves on even before death by shunting the elderly aside and failing to look upon them with respect and thanks and affection. How many live out their lives forgotten in nursing homes! But, our women are not forgotten. Not only do we remember them; God remembers them. “He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful,” says Ps. 111. There are no more wondrous works than those who He has made in His own image and likeness, and then joined to His Son’s death and resurrection and filled with His eternal Spirit in Holy Baptism. They will not turn to dust and be forgotten but will be raised with glorious bodies to a new and holy life! So will all of us who live and die in Christ.

Look to and live for that glorious resurrection day by living a new life in Christ now. When the world speaks hollow words of comfort, or seeks to avoid suffering and proclaim no value to it by offering things like assisted suicide and abortion, hold onto and hold forth the eternal life you have in Christ right now through the Word of His suffering, death, and resurrection. Jesus promises, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” And He receives us as we are, whether young or old and no matter how sinful, and changes us from being poor, miserable sinners to saints who are precious to Him, even in our death. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints!” This is not because of what you can do or how much energy you have or how healthy you are, but because of the Jesus who receives you and lives in you. He is yours for your entire life – and beyond.

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints… Because he inclined his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.” (Ps. 116)

In the name of Jesus. Amen.